Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: A Primary Source Set Honoring Three Presidents

George Washington and his Family

This post is co-authored by Cheryl Lederle and Danna Bell-Russel.

President’s Day? Presidents Day? Or Presidents’ Day?

Officially, it’s none of the above. By law, February 22 is called George Washington’s Birthday, but many now use the day to honor or commemorate all U.S. presidents. One easy way to help your students explore the legacy of three great presidents is by using a primary source set from the Library of Congress, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents.

Thomas Jefferson

As most readers of this blog know, primary source sets provide access to a collection of primary source items that are easy to download and print. They also include a teacher’s guide with background information and suggestions on ways to help teachers use these resources to encourage engagement and critical thinking and content understanding. This particular primary source set includes items suitable for teaching younger students.

In addition to the “Suggestions for Teachers” included with the primary source set, you could ask students to:

Abraham Lincoln and his Family

  • Use the analysis tool to guide a closer look at one of the portraits. What do they think was the purpose of the portrait? What point of view was the painter trying to portray?
  • Compare images of presidents from the past and present to see how presidents have been depicted in history and how that has changed over time.
  • Create a description of what it means to look like or to be a leader.  Do the images within the collection of portraits or in the primary source set show the presidents looking like a leader? Why or why not?

Looking for other images of presidents? Library experts have assembled a collection of presidential portraits that teachers can use to supplement the images in the Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln Primary Source Set.

What activities will you and your students do to study the lives of America’s presidents?


  1. mossayyeb samanian
    January 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    first step you have learned about history .what is history ?why is important history ?the role of sombody or some many people in making and the changing history?the role ofpresident in history and making to change and improvment countries

  2. sylva Portoian,MD
    February 1, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Please Mossayyeb,
    correct your English… this is Library site …
    It is not Face-book neither Twitter site
    I could not understand what you wrote…
    Find someone to write your opinion in clear English…


  3. Ali.muhmand
    February 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm


  4. Dona Helmer, elementary librarian
    February 5, 2015 at 11:56 am

    This is a very rich document set and has great lesson suggestions. I went to the Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents primary document set. I found The Washington family–George Washington, his lady, and her two grandchildren by the name of Custis at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96512002/. The summary/description states :
    Summary: George Washington, Martha Washington, and her two grandchildren, around table on which there is a map, and an African American servant, William Lee, in background.

    My students wanted to know if that is correct–is William Lee a “servant”? or a slave? and how do we find out?

  5. Danna Bell
    February 5, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    There is some information on the Mount Vernon website that notes that Washington freed him in his will and that he is buried in the slave burial grounds at Mount Vernon. Hope this helps answer your students’ question.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.